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Politics

Health Care Amendment on Tap as Committee Meetings Start

December 5, 2010 - 6:00pm

Committee meetings for the 2011 legislative session begin Tuesday, and the biggest item on any agenda is Senate Joint Resolution 2, known as the Florida Health Care Freedom Act, which would place a constitutional amendment on the ballot to opt out of the Affordable Care Act.

A judge struck down a similar measure prior to the midterm elections because its wording was confusing to voters.

Senate President Mike Haridopolos, R-Merritt Island, has removed the contentious wording from the previous bill and submitted the bill himself, an unusual move for a sitting Senate president.

The filing of this joint resolution is the first step in preserving the freedom of all residents of the state of Florida to provide for their own health care. To be sure, no individual should be compelled to participate in a health-care program of the governments choosing, Haridopolos said in an e-mail to supporters.

Backed by veto-proof majorities in both the House and Senate, Haridopolos and House Speaker Dean Cannon, R-Winter Park, should have no trouble pushing the measure through the Legislature. The GOPs gains in Congress in the midterms, too, have Republicans -- in Florida, at least -- bullish about their chances of repealing one of President Barack Obamas biggest legislative successes.

We hope that changes in the composition of Congress will result in either repeal or substantial modification of Obamacare, said Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville. But if that doesnt happen, individual Floridians should not be punished if they choose not to be involuntarily signed up for a plan chosen for them by the federal government, he added.

The resolution is sponsored in the House by Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Orlando, and co-sponsored by Gaetzs son, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach.

Haridopolos and Cannon have not been shy about using their new-found supermajorities, calling a special session on Nov. 16 to override several vetoes of outgoing Gov. Charlie Crist. The legislative leaders were careful, though, not to push through any legislation deemed too controversial. They pulled two bills slated for overrides in deference to Gov.-elect Rick Scott.

Some bills garnering headlines, including those dealing with immigration, education and Medicaid reform, will start taking shape this week.

Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, has already filed Senate Bill 136, an Arizona-like immigration bill that would allow law enforcement officers to ask for proof of U.S. citizenship during traffic stops. The bill would allow residents to sue law enforcement agencies for not enforcing immigration laws, but also prohibits racial profiling. The bill has been referred to the Criminal Justice, Judiciary and Budget committees, but is not explicitly on their respective agendas this week.

State legislators could also be taking some of their cues from Arizona on a different issue -- Medicaid reform. During a meeting last month, Sen. Joe Negron, R-Stuart, chairman of the Subcommittee on Health and Human Services Appropriation, mentioned Arizonas use of performance bonds to cut Medicaid costs. No specific Medicaid reform legislation has been filed, though, and Negron and other senators say they are starting with a blank page.

Senate Bill 6, passed during the 2010 legislative session but eventually vetoed by Gov. Crist after teachers unions rallied against it, will likely return in some form during the next session. It would have tied teacher pay more closely to performance and student tests, as well as making it easier for principals to fire teachers.

Gov.-elect Rick Scott signaled he is unlikely to oppose such a bill when he named Michelle Rhee, the controversial former Washington, D.C., schools chancellor, to his education transition team.

This weeks committee meetings will help set the foundation for the 2011 legislative session, which begins in March. Despite the special session last month, Tuesday could feel like the first day of school for some newly elected legislators. Freshman House members will review protocol, personnel and House rules Tuesday morning.

Reach Gray Rohrer at grohrer@sunshinestatenews.com or at (850) 727-0859.

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